There is ongoing chatter about the concept of the “destruction of the middle class,” usually followed up by disturbing stories of families struggling to get by and keep a standard of living that would be considered in tune with the traditional American Middle Class. Exterior forces by the federal, state, and local governments, world events, the economy, and natural disasters all play havoc on the little extra cash flow that the middle class has left after they pay the bills. The doom sayers chant repeatedly that “There won’t be anything left of the middle class, the backbone of America. There will only be the very rich and the very poor.” Bruce Springsteen has been singing about it for decades. So has Bruce Hornsby. And Peter Gabriel. There will always be someone singing about it. That’s just the way it is.
But I have to go out on a tough limb here. The majority of the pressure on the middle class, the pressure that is causing it to slowly implode, is avoidable. It is inherently a problem within that same middle class. The high cost of living, not being able to save for the kid’s college, the expense of housing and food overcoming net income, even the high cost of taxes, are all issues that have been overcome by those who have learned to defer gratification. When I was younger I had a Korean girlfriend who lived in a posh part of Los Angeles. Her family had a chain of donut shops. She told me how she grew up living in the back of one of them with her siblings, cousins, and grandmother. The family took turns working all day and all night. They bought more donut shops, then started buying houses. A decade later they were all living in nice neighborhoods, and in their own houses. And they were no longer members of the middle class. They were rich. That is an example of deferred gratification.
The art of deferring gratification is not something that can be taught with great success, though. The concept can be lectured and proven, but getting the majority of the middle class, which is, like, most of the population, to actually practice it would require making people forgo many of their wants and desires. We could totally get into a whole new tangent here about what would happen to the economic make up of society if the majority of people practiced high levels of deferred gratification. This comment, though, is not about the economic variances that ensue from the consumer driven economy. It’s about the middle class taking responsibility to preserve itself. Something that will be done on an individual basis by a very small percentage.